Friday, February 27, 2009

Bundle's first birthday!

Baby Stephanie celebrated her first birthday today! It is amazing to us that one year ago we were experiencing the profound beauty of her home birth. We are so thankful that we embraced that new experience; it is one of our most treasured memories as a couple, working together to help baby Stephanie into the world. Today, even more amazing is the idea that it was only a year ago! It seems she has been with us so much longer! Happy Birthday, you happy wonderful beautiful little girl! We love you so much!

As you can see, the mutant hot pink koala-head cake was received as expected. She gleefully tasted, smashed and smeared it around! She is currently obsessed with using utensils to eat, which made the birthday cake a whole new challenge. Apparently, she found it worked best when her foot blocked it from the table edge. Actually, her little foot frequently makes its way to the tabletop; we've learned that it's a sign she's enjoying her mealtime.

We were happy to celebrate her birthday with our new friends. Thanks to my gorgeous redhead girlfriend for taking the birthday video! It's so nice to have pictures and video clips of us all together as a family! We also find it fun that we have her Aussie well wishes recorded at the end of the birthday song, just in case we ever need proof for our girls of the many continents they've inhabited.

And yes, baby Stephanie is STILL "baby Stephanie". It is her name, and it's here to stay. She'll probably still be "baby Stephanie" at her 20th birthday. We hope she won't mind.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Creative caking

For Stephanie's first birthday cake, I decided to make a koala face, since she has always been our little koala. I made a cake in two circular pans, planning to use one for the face and cut the other for the ears. Once done, the ears were a bit too big, but I didn't want too many crumbly sides for frosting, so I decided to shrug it off. Not willing to make grey icing, it was a choice between a blue or pink koala. Stereotyping won, and we opted for pink. I use gel coloring, and the pink was a lovely pale pink until POW the beaters hit a wad of gel and the pale pink turned hot pink in an instant. We now have a hot pink mutant koala head for a birthday cake. Not quite according to plan, but no big deal, right? It will be photographed, smashed, smeared and eaten regardless. I think the fact that I'm not stressing out about serious lack of perfection is a sign of growth.
I also just want to eat the cake.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Knitting projects 2 & 3

It turns out knitting is the perfect new craft for me! Each project takes me ages because I'm new and because I have so little downtime (even less if you look for downtime when I'm not a zombie), but I enjoy it so much! I have now completed a scarf and a hat in addition to Ellie's poncho. The scarf was made for my wonderful friend's birthday. Inspired by yarn that reminded me so much of her, I knit like a mad thing...only to still be a bit late. Fortunately, she doesn't mind my tardiness! Before I mailed it off, I took it in to show the ladies in the yarn shop, since they have been so helpful as I plug along. The scarf came out so well that they are making one as a sample in the store! Since then, I've bought yarn to make similar scarves in two different colors, which should find their new homes next Christmas.

I also knit myself what I call my "pink rasta". It's a chunky knit beanie knit with a very pink Aspire wool/alpaca blend. That yarn is so soft and wonderful that I couldn't resist. The pattern called for one ball of chunky yarn to knit an adult and child hat, so I thought I'd knit matching hats for me and Ellie. Thus the pink. But oh...the PINK. It is just very seriously pink. I'm adjusting. The fact is I love this hat! It is so soft and forgiving that I can actually stuff all my hair inside and it still fits just as well, thus the name "pink rasta". Ellie's is almost done. I have to try to pin her down to test the size before I cut and seam it, because I made her hat a bit smaller than the pattern. I'm so crazy about this pattern (so easy!!) that I've already got plans to make three more before I move on to a different project.

Knitting is so enjoyable. I love that I can still sit and unwind with Markus in the evenings and yet create something beautiful with my hands at the same time. For a long time now, I have been tempted to buy a sewing machine and start sewing, but I realize that sewing would take me into a separate space, whereas knitting I can do while we sit together in the living room at night. I think knitting will be my new craft of choice for a while. Cooking still hangs in there too. Looking forward to creating baby Stephanie's first birthday cake this week!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A moment of peace

It is raining for the first time in I can't remember how long.
The coolness in the air and the sound of rain on the skylight are so soothing.
Ellie is at school, baby Stephanie is napping, and I am sipping a mug of pumpkin soup, a new project freshly cast on my knitting needles.
A little moment of peace and contentment.
With gratitude, I drink it in.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Weekly Video Post

Baby Stephanie is a musician! I introduced her to the piano this week, and she could not be more enthusiastic! Listen for her little "tah-dah!" in between masterful music pieces.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another first

Baby Stephanie had her own first today: insisting on feeding herself with utensils. It's been coming on gradually, but tonight she was having none of being fed by a third party. Forget it! She had to do it herself! Thank goodness cottage cheese sticks to utensils pretty well, although there was a rather amusing moment when she flung a wad of it onto her eyelid and sat motionless, trying to figure out what had happened.
Mealtimes are about to get a lot messier.

First Day!

To alleviate any suspense...Princess Ellie's first day of school went extraordinarily well!

After I posted last night, I went into the living room where Markus was working, and I started to cry. The typical Mom thing: my girl would be starting school, a first sure sign that she is growing up...and will grow away from me. Although I have been ready for her to go to Montessori for ages, although I know she will thrive there, although although although...I didn't want her to go! I became oh-so-distressed. Thankfully, it happened at a time when she couldn't see me. I worked it out of my system last night, so this morning was smooth sailing. She did try a stealthy get-out-of-it move in the car on the way to school when she announced matter-of-factly that she was very tired, so we must turn the car around and go straight home where Ellie can take a nap. It was an admirable attempt, given that she hasn't napped in days and knows I crave her naptime...but I didn't buy it. On we went.

For our first day, we were asked to arrive an hour later than the usual time so the teacher could have settled the others well before Ellie arrived so she could focus more on helping the new child adjust. We checked in at the office and made our way to her class. We passed lots of children her age doing a variety of fun activities, but she didn't notice because she was trying to become permanently imbedded in the back of my skirt. She hadn't peeked out at all even by the time I stopped at her class and began talking to her teacher. We had been asked to bring photos of Ellie for a timeline, one photo for each year of her life. As I passed those to her teacher, Ellie's interest was piqued. She came out from hiding to look at the photos, and that allowed her to see that many of the children in her class were snacking. SNACKS! Why didn't I say so? Well, she was fine after that. She got right to the business of taking out her lunchbox and trying to get at the contents. I took the opportunity to run away, and she didn't notice me leave. After snacking heartily, she spent a long time cutting paper with scissors, a much beloved activity which is too rarely facilitated at home. I think these two starter activities were enough to cement a good first impression: Ellie likes school.

I returned early to pick her up so I could chat with her teacher while the kids were on the playground. This first day was called a "readiness visit" to assess if Ellie would be ready to start on a daily basis. Her teacher emphatically informed me that "she is ready. She is so very very ready!" Ellie apparently did very well. As expected, the structure of the Montessori classroom appeals to her greatly, and she fit right into the mold. She even made friends with an older girl (the class is mixed ages 3-6), who taught her a few new materials. The only point that was hard was mid-way through the morning when they read a story as a class. After that, Ellie looked around and became distressed that I wasn't there. In Holland, school was done for the day after the story, so I guess that old programming kicked in and she expected me to come get her. There were many tears when she realized that wouldn't happen, but then she bounced back and did fine.

When the kids returned from the playground and she saw me, her eyes welled up with tears and so did mine. She was so overwhelmed...but she was happy. I felt the same way.
My girl is growing up.
I am so proud of her.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big news

I have been wanting to post about our doings over the past weekend, and I have some wonderful pictures to share...but first I must interrupt for an important news bulletin: Ellie starts school tomorrow! You may or may not remember the saga we had with schools when we arrived here six months ago. Every school and preschool and daycare and even playgroup has a waiting list, as the population has recently boomed out of proportion here around Perth. I have wanted Ellie to go to a Montessori preschool since before she was born, but it was looking quite unlikely when we started making inquiries. I applied to four Montessori schools and was put on four waiting lists. Then, magically, four spots were offered to us! Her mama's Montessori background opened all doors! We could take our pick, and we chose the Montessori school closest to our home. It's also the most philosophically grounded in the Montessori method (almost obsessively so). We were told she could start the next week...and that was in November. Then that got pushed back until after summer break. Remember, we are Down Under, so summer break like we have in the US happens over Christmas holidays here. School was out from mid-December until late January. Classes resumed a few weeks ago, but new students are brought in after the returning students settle back into routine. On Tuesday, I went in alone to observe Ellie's new class and her teacher. The school requires the observations to acquaint parents with the Montessori system, but I was happy to acquaint myself with the faces Ellie will be seeing daily from here on out. Her teacher is a lovely, soft-spoken, friendly woman from (just to show how interlinked life gets once you start living abroad) Nigeria. I am so happy Ellie will have a wonderful role model of a different race, because the Western Suburbs of Perth are some kind of white people Twilight Zone the likes of which I haven't experienced since living in New England. Ellie will go to school five half-days a week until she's old enough and ready to stay for full days. This is a Montessori school (not just preschool), so it carries on until middle school. Once she's in, she's in.
There have been too many administrative debacles (that I won't whine about here) for us to feel confident about staying with the school at the moment, but we're hopeful these issues will melt away once Ellie gets going in the system. After my observation on Tuesday, I was so excited for her to get started! She wants to learn! She wants to be around other children. She wants to try and do new things, every day. She wants to be challenged and engaged. This school will give her those opportunities at a time when baby Stephanie is demanding more and more of my time and attention as well. We expect the next few weeks to be tough as we go through the transition (she'll be exhausted every day!), but we are happy to get going with this new phase of her life! Ellie will be starting school! Amazing.


Last night, the girls took turns waking up five times between 12:30am and 5:30am, at which point I threw in the towel and stayed up, surrendering to my fate. Ellie is almost always up for the day by 6 anyway.
Almost always.
Since I got up exhausted today at 5:30am, she's sleeping in.
So is baby Stephanie.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ellie says

This morning as I ate my breakfast, I felt Ellie crawl up in the chair behind me and start playing with my hair.
"I'm fixing your hair," she informed me.
"Yes, I'm fixing your hair because it's a little bit broken."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Feeling the love

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
This morning was the second and final toy collection at the toy library. When I collected the booty this afternoon, it completely filled our station wagon. If each individual toy went to a different child, our little toy drive will be able to bring smiles to more than 50 kids! Even more amazing is when you add ours to the greater pile being collected and shipped over. "Play To Heal" (our organizing partner) collected so many toys in the first 4 days of its 7 day drive that they have had to ask people to stop giving! They already have FIVE TONS of toys, and that doesn't include the collections from smaller organizations (like us) to whom they have given the green light. And this is just one toy drive from one large(-ish) organization in one part of Australia. Imagine the overall response around the country. I know it will never replace what the fire victims have lost or displace the horrible images they have seen, but the outpouring of support is overwhelming.
I am so proud to have been a part of it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ballet girls

This week, Ellie resumed her ballet class after the summer holiday with great joy and enthusiasm! Baby Stephanie scooted off to join the fun...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fire victims in Victoria

With the news content being so heavily focused on homes and stories, it's easy to forget that people aren't the only victims of devastating fires. The brother of one of Markus's colleagues is a volunteer firefighter in Victoria, and he shared this photo today:

For those of you looking to make a monetary donation to help, you might want to consider Wildlife Victoria or the RSPCA. I believe the latter site is currently down due to overload, but it should be up and running again before long. The need for help will continue for months as they try to rehabilitate many injured animals, so it's worth checking back.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Victoria bush fires

Over the weekend, deadly wildfires ignited in Victoria, Australia, that have left over a hundred dead and hundreds of people homeless. Extreme climactic conditions (over 40 degrees and 100 km/hr winds) spread the fires far faster than could possibly be contained, and most people had no warning before the sky blackened and the flames surrounded them. With calmer, cooler weather today, the fires are being brought under control, but they are still burning, possibly helped by "firebugs" (the news' nice word for arsonists) who ignite areas that have already been extinguished. Looking at the pictures and reading the stories have brought back memories of the only comparison I personally have: Hurricane Katrina. The source and scale of the devastation are different, but in other ways, this is too close to being the same. I know what these people are experiencing, and it hurts my heart...but as has been my line for the past three-plus years on the Katrina subject, "Don't even get me started." In the midst of the horror, there were innumerable kindnesses. The generosity and support of total strangers moved us to tears time and again, and it brought hope in a hopeless situation. I want to somehow do that for the survivors of these fires, particularly (probably because I'm a mom) for the children. I want to help, and I want to help as much as possible.

So, here's my idea: As a committee member of the Nedlands Toy Library, I have a great link to lots of locals. I checked with the other committee members today (as well as the Salvation Army, which is handling all item donations) and we will host a new toy drive this week. Anyone who wants to help can drop off a new toy and new or gently used children's clothing during toy library hours (9:30am-11am) this Thursday and Saturday, and I will box them up Saturday afternoon and send them on their way. By limiting the drive to this week, I hope to get comfort on its way as soon as possible.

So...if you read this blog and happen to live in the Perth area, please bring a new toy and/or children's clothing to the Nedlands Toy Library this Thursday or Saturday between 9:30 and 11am. Let's give the children who've made it through the wildfires a new reason to smile. Thank you!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Ellie says

When Markus brought the girls home happy and excited from the playground this evening, Ellie could smell dinner cooking and asked what I was making. I told her she smelled the soup simmering on the stove.
"SOUP, Papa! We're having SOUP!" Ellie shouted joyfully. Her enthusiasm was astounding for such a notoriously picky eater. I was suspicious but happy with her jubilant response.
She continued, "SOUP! Mama's making soup!
And Mama...what are you making for me?"

Thursday, February 05, 2009

She's mobile!

In the few weeks around Christmas time, baby Stephanie was giving all the signs that she would skip crawling entirely and go straight for walking. She even took a few tentative steps and had a blast motoring around the coffee table. Now, all of that has slowed again. She still likes the coffee table, but she's more interested in trying to climb on top of it than motor around it. She also still likes to walk with Papa, but she has stopped attempting it on her own. This may or may not have to do with "help" she received early on from an enthusiastic big sister who often "helped" her onto the floor. At any rate, she's taken with the floor and has decided to scoot around and out any open door at any opportunity. She's getting quite quick about it too! I set her down so I could clear the table the other day, and when I looked up from the first two plates, she was out of the dining area and into the playroom. When you watch her scoot, you'll notice she uses two hands and one foot flat on the floor while she drags the other bent leg along beneath her. Ellie did the same thing. Apparently, so did I. Is crawling style hereditary?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cuddly Animal Farm (again)

Ellie requests a return trip to the "bunny farm" every week, but it's been too hot and the drive has been too long for me to acquiesce. On Saturday, Markus had to go in to work for a few hours, and Ellie immediately asked if we could go to the bunny farm. I told her it was too busy on a weekend. With so many families visiting, the baby animals will be full and Ellie won't get to see them much. I told her we might go during the week instead. She asked what day it was, and I told her Saturday. She asked when is a weekday and I told her.
Wouldn't you know that Monday morning Ellie asked what day it was and when I replied it was Monday, her face lit up like a light and screamed, "We can go to the BUNNY FARM!" Monday happened to be another record-hot day, but there was no way she would understand or accept that. I got out of that by telling her it was closed. Yesterday, we were so busy she just forgot. This morning, I knew I shouldn't make her wait anymore, so I offered the trip before she remembered to ask. She was so excited!

There were no chicks or baby rabbits today, but there were baby guinea pigs and little goat kids. Ellie was in raptures! The funny part is so was baby Stephanie! She was sooooo happy and excited, flapping her arms and laughing and reaching for the baby animals. She wanted to be held, which made it hard to capture her joy on camera. I did manage one shot of a kid nuzzling her toes. When nuzzles first turned to nibbles, she giggled and enjoyed it, but she soon put that goat in its place with a few kung-fu kicks of her baby legs. (disclaimer for the animal rights people: she did NOT kick the kid, but the flailing legs were enough to make it give her space)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mademoiselle Artiste

Until recently, there was a large bare space on the wall in Ellie's room that cried out for decoration. I've had several ideas about how we might fill it creatively in a way that was very much Ellie, but we hadn't done a thing until I was inspired by this post at UNIFORM Studio. Ellie loves to paint, so this seemed the perfect solution. It was her first experience with canvas and also her first opportunity to paint something of this size. I am not a graphic designer or professional artist, so I skipped the lesson in composition and color that was part of the inspiring post. It was to be a painting for Ellie's room, so I let her choose 3 colors. I bought a variety of inexpensive brushes ranging in size from fairly small (given the canvas size) to a wide as the width of my palm. I set up the materials and let the creation process be entirely up to her. Ellie being Ellie, she opted to paint with only the smallest brushes, so a lot of white space remains.

I have to admit, I waffled for ages in the art store about that canvas. Stretched canvas is not cheap, and it felt mighty pricey for a 3 year old's project. Ultimately, I decided to go for it. I justified the price by thinking that she can add to it again later if she wants to, or at some point we can just paint over it and start again. She is so proud of the end result that I know I made the right choice.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Weekly Video Post

After December's daily posting and then a couple of weeks of intermittent computer access, I admit I have fallen off the blogging bandwagon. However, I will be making a valiant effort to get right back on, because I do enjoying sharing with you! I may be making some changes in the weeks to come (possibly to another provider), but I'll give you plenty of notice if I do. I've also been toying with a separate blog, because I use this one to share our family life with friends and loved ones far away but I do have other things to say (remarkable!) and I feel this isn't the best place for that. Again, I'll keep you posted!
For now, back to our regularly scheduled programming!
Today's submission for the Weekly Video Post was captured less than an hour ago as Ellie and I went through her bedtime routine. Over the past few days, I have heard her reading stories to her dolls at naptime, and I've been so impressed to hear her "read" almost verbatim. Attempts to catch this on camera, however, only gave her the much-desired excuse to abort naptime (or even quiet time), so I let her read undisturbed. Sometimes in the evenings, I have heard her reading with Markus, and tonight she allowed Markus to record us while she read with me. The clip starts when we are about half-way through the book, so she's lost a bit of steam. For the first half, she read voices for all the characters, just as I do. I am so proud.